“You know, Elie,” said the skeleton of my father, as weary of this long posthumous chat as I have been lately, “your trouble is that you feel like you have to hit a six hundred foot home run now. The legend says Babe Ruth hit one almost that far, you can ask my man Jeeves about it and get time and place. It was hit in Florida, if I recall, in some kind of Spring Training or other exhibition game. Your boy The Mick supposedly hit that tape measure job in Washington D.C. that went 565 feet, I think that was the mythical number the Yankees’ creative PR flack immortalized in the press release after the game.
“You read the whole story of that tape measure shot that left Griffith Stadium and went over a row of houses across the street from the park in Jane Leavy’s great biography of Mantle. It may have gone that distance, 565, it certainly was hit out of the stadium, a rare feat, it went an impressive part of that amazing distance, for sure. It may have dented a car, and bounced, and finished rolling another 40 feet away where a kid showed the guy with the tape measure where he found it. The details are not important (though this is a cool read, thanks, Jeeves).
“Mantle was, at the time of that home run, a young man of prodigious physical strength uniquely adapted to hitting a baseball, thrown at ninety miles an hour, a long way. The physics of how someone his size hit a ball as hard and as far as he did is discussed in a chapter of Leavy’s book. It’s not important now. Nor is it in any way significant that he hit that ball, if I’m not mistaken, in the year you were born, 1956, the year he won the Triple Crown.”
Your boy Jeeves informs us he hit it on April 17, 1953.
“Fascinating to have the world’s accumulated facts at your fingertips, isn’t it? This is what I want you to realize, Elie. Mantle was a twenty-three year-old superstar at his physical peak when he blasted that pitch on an atmospherically perfect day for a legendary home run to fly. Babe Ruth was a force of nature, his like will never been seen again, he would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer as a pitcher, for fuck’s sake, and nobody has approached his lifetime slugging percentage — and even he is known to have hit only one or two that distance.
“You’re standing at the plate, knocking dirt off your spikes, sometimes hitting the fuck out of the ball– but in an empty stadium. You imagine, and I know you do, because I’m in your head, as you know very well, that you need to hit the ball over all the seats and out into Shitshow Avenue. You figure if you hit the hell out of that heater up in your wheelhouse, somebody will have to take notice. This is not a reasonable position, for a number of reasons.
“First of all– you have to hit the ball where there are people to see it, paying customers with their fannies in the seats. Second– you don’t have to hit the fucking ball 600 feet. You’d be better off, in some way, blowing the general manager, if you want to be brutal about it. If you hit a single and a double every day, by July you’re still hitting .420, a very big story without any fancy tape measure home runs.
“But it isn’t about baseball at all, is it, Elie? You’re not a baseball player. I mean, obviously, it’s a metaphor. You recall that hothead relief pitcher who claimed he could strike Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth on six pitches? He got some shit, smirked and said ‘for Christsakes, man, they’d be over a hundred years old!’ Do you think even Ted Williams could have hit the ball 600 feet at your age?
“Look, I understand you never did what every professional in the world does, unless they have a famous father (and you could have, if you’d been smarter about it, of course)– that is, position yourself in an industry, make useful connections, get yourself powerful mentors, learn to use the tongue for more than witty badinage. You never learned to make the connections successful people make. You dropped out early, did not go to a college where the best and the brightest meet to rule the world. You were open with your disdain for the ambitious, those young people willing to do whatever it takes to ‘make it’, to ‘do well’ and so on.
“I take some part of the blame for that, you know, because I also always openly despised careerist opportunists. More blame comes to me because I was such a relentless fuck and I kept the rage hissing full blast all the time. I am not deaf to the great irony that my book, no matter how well-done you manage to make it, will never see the light of day because I disabled you from taking the needed steps to get some influential corporately adept genius to champion the book.”
“Are you right to be distracted at the moment, filled with hate that the beloved liberal former president who left among his great legacies a health care plan that requires you to jump through several flaming hoops, in a fleeting sixty day period, to have a chance to reverse their mistake that makes your current health care ten times more expensive than the shit care you had last year? Sure, hate away. In the end, if all goes well, you’ll pay what the law says you should pay. In the mean time, figure out how to get a tax transcript, the correct one, there are six or seven, you know, and make sure to upload it and perfect your administrative appeal within the next few weeks or lose the right to any appeal whatsoever. I mean, fine, be enraged. What has it to do with your duty to me, with your filial piety?”
“I may be a selfish prick here, and I see I’ve reduced you to tooth sucking silence, but I want you to finish this book. Not only for my sake, and I say this in all honesty, but for your sake as well. If the book is not a mammoth home run, if it gets you a very low advance and sells a few hundred copies, it will be a greater reward than I deserve. It may also position you to get paid for what you do, for what you have spent the last few decades doing, whatever else you have been doing. As so many assholes have pointed out, and every lottery winner knows, you have to be in it to win it.”
“So stop sucking your teeth, get your tongue out of your cheek, and find the right anus to gently probe with it. You already know a literary agent, stop pretending you don’t. She may not be the agent you want or need, but she’s a place to start, the best place you’ve got. Can’t you even do that, for fuck’s sake?”